By ASHLEIGH GRIM
Beginning this semester, the Office of Admissions has a new program that identifies tour guides and prospective students visiting campus. The Visitor Identification Program (VIP) issues red UMW lanyards for prospective students to wear and red polos and fleece jackets for tour guides to wear, which is intended to help UMW students and faculty recognize these students and help them feel included in the community.
“We wanted to do something that makes them stand out a little bit, so they’re noticed,” said Melissa Yakabouski, director of Undergraduate Admissions. “So I think the initial reason for doing this is really to treat our campus visitors a little bit differently and elevate their experience and awareness of the campus community.”
“I think the prospective students that have participated so far seem to like it. A few may think it’s kind of cheesy, but even then it makes the guests feel a little bit more special on our campus than how they might feel touring other colleges,” said tour guide Lauren Perez, junior political science and communications and digital studies double major.
The red lanyards and polos is a noticeable change from previous semesters when the tour guides wore navy polos. The Office of Admissions hopes that using this eye-catching color will encourage current students to interact with and help guests to feel welcome.
“We need to be doing things to cultivate that feeling of welcomeness and to interact with them. We don’t want them to be under the radar. We actually like it when faculty says ‘hey’ and ‘we are glad you’re here.’ It resonates and it makes them feel like this isn’t a place where they are going to be lost. There is real connection and engagement,” said Yakabouski.
Tour guide and senior accounting major, Matt Candy, said, “Professors have gone out of their way to say hi to several of my tour groups, including Interim Dean Machande of the College of Business who has taken time to speak to my groups. Vice president of finance and administration, Dr. Lynne Richardson, has also stopped to speak with students on tour and the tour groups are impressed with the connections students are able to make with professors and the professional staff on-campus.”
For many prospective students, an atmosphere of community is a factor they consider when choosing a college to attend. The campus tours they go on are often the first taste of the college community that they receive.
Yakabouski mentioned that this visit takes a large part in the decision-making process of these students. “The campus visit is really a critical experience in the life and process of an applicant. We’re hoping that by really showing the community a little differently by engaging them differently that, that will also help them to see where they fit,” she said.
“I believe the program has increased the amount that people on campus talk to those on tour and that ultimately I hope will make them want to come to UMW more,” said tour guide Sophie Ahava, a sociology and marketing double major.
The Office of Admissions also wants student to be aware that they are not the only ones who can engage in recruiting prospective students.
“It raises awareness that it’s not just admissions job to recruit students. We are trying to present all aspects of our community fairly, honestly and positively,” said Yakabouski.
While the red polos and lanyards seem like a big change for admissions this semester, changes are certainly is not new to any of the admissions staff. Many small changes are made throughout the year.
“We are always tweaking things. Tour guides do go through an interview and selection process. We have volunteer guides who start out and then ultimately become paid guides,” said Yakabouski. “There has always been continuing education. So it doesn’t end with observing your tours, leading a tour and you are critiqued. You sit in on information sessions, there are monthly meetings where we bring in guest speakers and there’s always ongoing training.”
Changes are made within admissions at various levels.
“We look at tour routes and updates that we need to include, so there is always a little bit of change that is happening every year. There are certainly best practices out there that we want to do to the best of our ability” said Yakabouski. “We have tour reply cards and at the end of every tour, guides encourage feedback. One of the other significant tweaks this year was that we adjusted what was being asked on the cards. There are a few more questions on it than asked in the past.”
“I have definitely had a lot more interactions with professors while on tour and that makes our tours a lot more unique,” said tour guide and junior Spanish and biology double major Jesse Hernandez. “I believe the more people learn about the program, the more difference it will have on our tours.”